Hearing the scrimmage, your neighbour comes on to his verandah, and sees the chase going down the street.
"Ha! that wretched old De Wet again!" he says. "Small hope your dog has of catching him! Why don't you get a garden gate like mine, so that he won't get in?"
"No; he can't get in at your gate," is the reply; "but I think his commando are in your back garden now."
Then follows a frantic rush. Your neighbour falls downstairs in his haste, and the commando, after stopping to bite some priceless pot plants of your neighbour's as they come out, skips easily back over the fence and through your gate into the street again.
If a horse gets in his hoofs make no impression on the firm turf of the Parramatta grass, and you get quite a hearty laugh by dropping a chair on him from the first-floor window.
The game fowls of your other neighbour come fluttering into your garden, and scratch and chuckle and fluff themselves under your plumbago bush; but you don't worry. Why should you? They can't hurt it; and, besides, you know that the small black hen and the big yellow one, who have disappeared from the throng, are even now laying their daily egg for you behind the thickest bush.
Your little dog rushes frantically up and down the front bed of your garden, barking and racing, and tearing up the ground, because his rival little dog, who lives down the street, is going past with his master, and each pretends that he wants to be at the other—as they have pretended every day for the past three years. The performance he is going through doesn't disturb you. Why should it? By following the directions in this article you have selected plants he cannot hurt.
After breakfasting at noon, you stroll out, and, perhaps, smooth with your foot, or with your spade, the inequalities made by the hens; you gather up casually the eggs they have laid; you whistle to your little dog, and go out for a stroll with a light heart.
Travellers approaching a bush township are sure to find some distance from the town a lonely public-house waiting by the roadside to give them welcome. Thirsty (miscalled Thursday) Island is the outlying pub of Australia.
When the China and British-India steamers arrive from the North the first place they come to is Thirsty Island, the sentinel at the gate of Torres Straits. New chums on the steamers see a fleet of white-sailed pearling luggers, a long pier clustered with a hybrid crowd of every colour, caste and creed under Heaven, and at the back of it all a little galvanized-iron town shining in the sun.
For nine months of the year a crisp, cool south-east wind blows, the snow-white beach is splashed with spray and dotted with the picturesque figures of Japanese divers and South Sea Island boatmen. Coco-nut palms line the roads by the beach, and back of the town are the barracks and a fort nestling among the trees on the hillside. Thirsty Island is a nice place—to look at.
When a vessel makes fast the Thirsty Islanders come down to greet the new-comers and give them welcome to Australia. The new-chums are inclined to patronise these simple, outlying people. Fresh from the iniquities of the China-coast cocktail and the unhallowed orgies of the Sourabaya Club, new-chums think they have little to learn in the way of drink; at any rate, they haven't come all the way to Thursday Island to be taught anything. Poor new-chums! Little do they know the kind of people they are up against.
The following description of a night at Thursday Island is taken from a new-chum's note book:
"Passed Proudfoot shoal and arrived at Thursday Island. First sight of Australia. Lot of men came aboard, all called Captain. They are all pearl-fishers or pilots, not a bit like the bushmen I expected. When they came aboard they divided into parties. Some invaded the Captain's cabin; others sat in the smoking room; the rest crowded into the saloon. They talked to the passengers about the Boer War, and told us about pearls worth 1000 pounds that had been found lately.
"One captain pulled a handful of loose pearls out of a jar and handed them round in a casual way for us to look at. The stewards opened bottles and we all sat down for a drink and a smoke. I spoke to one captain—an oldish man—and he grinned amiably, but did not answer. Another captain leaned over to me and said, 'Don't take any notice of him, he's boozed all this week.'
"Conversation and drink became general. The night was very hot and close, and some of the passengers seemed to be taking more than was good for them. A contagious thirst spread round the ship, and before long the stewards and firemen were at it. The saloon became an inferno of drink and sweat and tobacco smoke. Perfect strangers were talking to each other at the top of their voices.
"Young MacTavish, who is in a crack English regiment, asked the captain of a pearling lugger whether he didn't know Talbot de Cholmondeley in the Blues.
"The pearler said very likely he had met 'em, and no doubt he'd remember their faces if he saw them, but he never could remember names.
"Another passenger—a Jew—was trying to buy some pearls cheap from the captains, but the more the captains drank the less anxious they became to talk about pearls.
"The night wore on, and still the drinks circulated. Young MacTavish slept profoundly.
"One passenger gave his steward a sovereign as he was leaving the ship, and in half an hour the steward was carried to his berth in a fit—alcoholic in its origin. Another steward was observed openly drinking the passengers' whisky. When accused, he didn't even attempt to defend himself; the great Thursday Island thirst seemed to have communicated itself to everyone on board, and he simply had to drink.
"About three in the morning a tour of the ship disclosed the following state of affairs: Captain's room full of captains solemnly tight; smoking-room empty, except for the inanimate form of the captain who had been boozed all the week, and was now sleeping peacefully with his feet on the sofa and his head on the floor. The saloon was full of captains and passengers—the latter mostly in a state of collapse or laughing and singing deliriously; the rails lined with firemen who had business over the side; stewards ditto.
"At last the Thursday Islanders departed, unsteadily, but still on their feet, leaving a demoralized ship behind them. And young MacTavish, who has seen a thing or two in his brief span, staggered to his berth, saying, 'My God! Is all Australia like this place?'"
* * * * *
When no ships arrive, the Islanders just drop into the pubs, as a matter of routine, for their usual evening soak. They drink weird compounds—horehound beer, known as "lady dog", and things like that. About two in the morning they go home speechless, but still able to travel. It is very rarely that an Islander gets helplessly drunk, but strangers generally have to be put to bed.
The Japanese on the island are a strong faction. They have a club of their own, and once gave a dinner to mark the death of one of their members. He was shrewdly suspected of having tried to drown another member by cutting his airpipe, so, when he died, the club celebrated the event. The Japanese are not looked upon with favor by the white islanders. They send their money to Japan—thousands of pounds a year go through the little office in money-orders—and so they are not "good for trade".
The Manilamen and Kanakas and Torres Strait islanders, on the other hand, bring all the money they do not spend on the pearling schooner to the island, and "blow it in", like men. They knife each other sometimes, and now and again have to be run in wholesale, but they are "good for trade". The local lock-up has a record of eighteen drunks run in in seven minutes. They weren't taken along in carriages-and-four, either; they were mostly dragged along by the scruff of the neck.
Billy Malkeela, the South Sea diver, summed up the Japanese question—"Seems to me dis Islan' soon b'long Japanee altogedder. One time pa-lenty rickatta (plenty regatta), all same Isle of Wight. Now no more rickatta. All money go Japan!"
An English new-chum made his appearance there lately—a most undefeated sportsman. He was put down in a diving dress in about eight feet of water, where he bubbled and struggled about in great style. Suddenly he turned, rushed for the beach, and made for the foot of a tree, which he tried to climb under the impression that he was still at the bottom of the ocean. Then he was hauled in by the life-line.
The pearlers thought to get some fun out of him by giving him an oyster to open in which they had previously planted a pearl; he never saw the pearl and threw the oyster into the scuppers with the rest, and the pearlers had to go down on all fours and grope for that pearl among the stinking oysters. It was funny—but not in the way they had intended.
The pearlers go out in schooners called floating stations (their enemies call them floating public-houses) and no man knows what hospitality is till he has been a guest on a pearling schooner. They carry it to extremes sometimes. Some pearlers were out in a lugger, and were passing by one of these schooners. They determined not to go on board, as it was late, and they were in a hurry. The captain of the schooner went below, got his rifle and put two bullets through their foresail. Then they put the helm down and went aboard; it was an invitation almost equivalent to a royal command. They felt heartily ashamed of themselves as they slunk up on deck, and the captain of the schooner eyed them reproachfully.
"I couldn't let you disgrace yourselves by passing my schooner," he said; "but if it ever happens again I'll fire at the deck. A man that would pass a schooner in broad daylight is better dead."
There is a fort and garrison at Thirsty Island, but they are not needed. If an invading fleet comes this way it should be encouraged by every possible means to land at the island; the heat, the thirst, the horehound beer, and the Islanders may be trusted to do the rest.
DAN FITZGERALD EXPLAINS
The circus was having its afternoon siesta. Overhead the towering canvas tent spread like a giant mushroom on a network of stalks—slanting beams, interlaced with guys and wire ropes.
The ring looked small and lonely; its circle of empty benches seemed to stare intently at it, as though some sort of unseen performance were going on for the benefit of a ghostly audience. Now and again a guy rope creaked, or a loose end of canvas flapped like faint, unreal applause, as the silence shut down again, it did not need much imagination to people the ring with dead and gone circus riders performing for the benefit of shadowy spectators packed on those benches.
In the menagerie portion matters were different; here there was a free and easy air, the animals realising that for the present the eyes of the public were off them, and they could put in the afternoon as they chose.
The big African apes had dropped the "business" of showing their teeth, and pretending that they wanted to tear the spectators' faces off. They were carefully and painstakingly trying to fix up a kind of rustic seat in the corner of their cage with a short piece of board, which they placed against the wall. This fell down every time they sat on it, and the whole adjustment had to be gone through again.
The camel had stretched himself full length on the tan, and was enjoying a luxurious snooze, oblivious of the fact that before long he would have to get up and assume that far-off ship-of-the-desert aspect. The remainder of the animals were, like actors, "resting" before their "turn" came on; even the elephant had ceased to sway about, while a small monkey, asleep on a sloping tent pole, had an attack of nightmare and would have fallen off his perch but for his big tail. It was a land of the Lotus-eater
"In which it seemed always afternoon."
These visions were dispelled by the entry of a person who said, "D'ye want to see Dan?" and soon Dan Fitzgerald, the man who knows all about the training of horses, came into the tent with Montgomery, the ringmaster, and between them they proceeded to expound the methods of training horseflesh.
"What sort of horse do we buy for circus work? Well, it depends what we want 'em for. There are three sorts of horses in use in a circus—ring horses, trick horses, and school horses; but it doesn't matter what he is wanted for, a horse is all the better if he knows nothing. A horse that has been pulled about and partly trained has to unlearn a lot before he is any use to us. The less he knows, the better it is."
"Then do you just try any sort of horse?"
"Any sort, so long as he is a good sort, but it depends on what he is wanted for. If we want a ring horse, he has to be a quiet sober-going animal, not too well-bred and fiery. A ring horse is one that just goes round the ring for the bareback riders and equestriennes to perform on. The human being is the "star", and the horse in only a secondary performer, a sort of understudy; yes, that's it, an understudy—he has to study how to keep under the man."
"Are they hard to train?"
"Their work all depends on the men that ride them. In bareback riding there's a knack in jumping on the horse. If a man lands awkwardly and jars the horse's back, the horse will get out of step and flinch at each jump, and he isn't nearly so good to perform on. A ring horse must not swerve or change his pace; if you're up in the air, throwing a somersault, and the horse swerves from underneath you—where are you?"
"Some people think that horses take a lot of notice of the band—is that so?"
"Not that I know of. If there are any horses in the show with an ear for music, I haven't heard of them. They take a lot of notice of the ringmaster."
"Does it take them long to learn this work?"
"Not long; a couple of months will teach a ring horse; of course, some are better than others."
"First of all we teach them to come up to you, with the whip, like horsebreakers do. Then we run them round the ring with a lunging rein for a long time; then, when they are steady to the ring, we let them run with the rein loose, and the trainer can catch hold of it if they go wrong. Then we put a roller on them—a broad surcingle that goes round the horse's body—and the boys jump on them and canter round, holding on to the roller, or standing up, lying down, and doing tricks till the horse gets used to it."
"Well, you give 'em a couple of hours of it, perhaps, and then dry them and feed them, and give them a spell, and then bring them out again. They soon get to know what you want; but you can't break in horses on the move. The shifting and worry and noise and excitement put it all out of their heads. We have a fixed camp where we break them in. And a horse may know his work perfectly well when there is no one about, but bring him into the ring at night, and he is all abroad."
"Do you have to give them much whip?"
"Not much. If a horse doesn't know what you want him to do, it only ruins him to whip him. But once he does a thing a few times, and then won't do it, then you must whip him."
"What about trick horses?"
"A trick horse rolls a barrel, or lies down and goes to bed with the clown, or fires a pistol—does any trick like that. Some small circuses make the same horses do both trick and ring work, but it isn't a good line. A horse is all the better to have only one line of business—same as a man."
"How do you teach them tricks?"
"Oh, it takes a long time and a lot of hard work and great patience. Even to make a horse lie down when he's ordered takes a couple of months sometimes. To make a horse lie down, you strap up one leg, and then pull his head round; after a while he gets so tired of the strained position that he lies down, after which he learns to do it at command. If you want him to pick up a handkerchief, you put a bit of carrot in it, and after a while they know that you want them to pick it up—but it takes a long time. Then a strange hand in the ring will flurry them, and if anything goes wrong, they get all abroad. A good active pony, with a bit of Arab blood in him, is the best for tricks."
"What's a school horse?"
"Ah, that's a line of business that isn't appreciated enough out here. On the Continent they think a lot of them. A school horse is one that is taught to do passaging, to change his feet at command, to move sideways and backwards; in fact, to drill. Out here no one thinks much of it. But in Germany, where everyone goes through military riding schools, they do. The Germans are the best horse-trainers in the world; and the big German circus-proprietors have men to do all their business for them, while they just attend to the horses."
"How long does it take to turn out a school horse?"
"Well, Chiarini was the best trainer out here, and he used to take two years to get a horse to his satisfaction. For school horses, you must have thoroughbreds, because their appearance is half their success. We had a New Zealand thoroughbred that had raced, and was turning out a splendid school horse, and he got burnt after costing a year's training. That's the luck of the game, you know. You keep at it year after year, and sometimes they die, and sometimes they get crippled—it's all in the luck of the game. You may give fifty pounds for a horse, and find that he can never get over his fear of the elephant, while you give ten pounds for another, and find him a ready-made performer almost."
We passed out through the ghostly circus and the menagerie tent down to the stable tent. There, among a lot of others, a tranquil-looking animal was munching some feed, while in front of him hung a placard, "Tiger Horse".
"That's a new sort! What is he, ring, trick, or school horse?"
"Well, he's a class by himself. I suppose you'd call him a ring horse. That's the horse that the tiger rides on."
"Did it take him long to learn that?"
"Well, it did not take this horse long; but we tried eleven others before we could get one to stand it. They're just like men, all different. What one will stand another won't look at. Well, good-bye."
Just like men—no doubt; most men have to carry tigers of various sorts through life to get a living.
Most people think that the cat is an unintelligent animal, fond of ease, and caring little for anything but mice and milk. But a cat has really more character than most human beings, and gets a great deal more satisfaction out of life. Of all the animal kingdom, the cat has the most many-sided character.
He—or she—is an athlete, a musician, an acrobat, a Lothario, a grim fighter, a sport of the first water. All day long the cat loafs about the house, takes things easy, sleeps by the fire, and allows himself to be pestered by the attentions of our womenfolk and annoyed by our children. To pass the time away he sometimes watches a mouse-hole for an hour or two—just to keep himself from dying of ennui; and people get the idea that this sort of thing is all that life holds for the cat. But watch him as the shades of evening fall, and you see the cat as he really is.
When the family sits down to tea, the cat usually puts in an appearance to get his share, and purrs noisily, and rubs himself against the legs of the family; and all the time he is thinking of a fight or a love-affair that is coming off that evening. If there is a guest at table the cat is particularly civil to him, because the guest is likely to have the best of what is going. Sometimes, instead of recognizing this civility with something to eat, the guest stoops down and strokes the cat, and says, "Poor pussy! poor pussy!"
The cat soon tires of that; he puts up his claw and quietly but firmly rakes the guest in the leg.
"Ow!" says the guest, "the cat stuck his claws into me!" The delighted family remarks, "Isn't it sweet of him? Isn't he intelligent? He wants you to give him something to eat."
The guest dares not do what he would like to do—kick the cat through the window—so, with tears of rage and pain in his eyes, he affects to be very much amused, and sorts out a bit of fish from his plate and hands it down. The cat gingerly receives it, with a look in his eyes that says: "Another time, my friend, you won't be so dull of comprehension," and purrs maliciously as he retires to a safe distance from the guest's boot before eating it. A cat isn't a fool—not by a long way.
When the family has finished tea, and gathers round the fire to enjoy the hours of indigestion, the cat slouches casually out of the room and disappears. Life, true life, now begins for him.
He saunters down his own backyard, springs to the top of the fence with one easy bound, drops lightly down on the other side, trots across the right-of-way to a vacant allotment, and skips to the roof of an empty shed. As he goes, he throws off the effeminacy of civilisation; his gait becomes lithe and pantherlike; he looks quickly and keenly from side to side, and moves noiselessly, for he has so many enemies—dogs, cabmen with whips, and small boys with stones.
Arrived on the top of the shed, the cat arches his back, rakes his claws once or twice through the soft bark of the old roof, wheels round and stretches himself a few times; just to see that every muscle is in full working order; then, dropping his head nearly to his paws, he sends across a league of backyards his call to his kindred—a call to love, or war, or sport.
Before long they come, gliding, graceful shadows, approaching circuitously, and halting occasionally to reconnoitre—tortoiseshell, tabby, and black, all domestic cats, but all transformed for the nonce into their natural state. No longer are they the hypocritical, meek creatures who an hour ago were cadging for fish and milk. They are now ruffling, swaggering blades with a Gascon sense of dignity. Their fights are grim and determined, and a cat will be clawed to ribbons before he will yield.
Even young lady cats have this inestimable superiority over human beings, that they can work off jealousy, hatred, and malice in a sprawling, yelling combat on a flat roof. All cats fight, and all keep themselves more or less in training while they are young. Your cat may be the acknowledged lightweight champion of his district—a Griffo of the feline ring!
Just think how much more he gets out of his life than you do out of yours—what a hurricane of fighting and lovemaking his life is—and blush for yourself. You have had one little love-affair, and never had a good, all-out fight in your life!
And the sport they have, too! As they get older and retire from the ring they go in for sport more systematically; the suburban backyards, that are to us but dullness indescribable, are to them hunting-grounds and trysting-places where they may have more gallant adventure than ever had King Arthur's knights or Robin Hood's merry men.
Grimalkin decides to kill a canary in a neighbouring verandah. Consider the fascination of it—the stealthy reconnaissance from the top of the fence; the care to avoid waking the house-dog, the noiseless approach and the hurried dash, and the fierce clawing at the fluttering bird till its mangled body is dragged through the bars of the cage; the exultant retreat with the spoil; the growling over the feast that follows. Not the least entertaining part of it is the demure satisfaction of arriving home in time for breakfast and hearing the house-mistress say: "Tom must be sick; he seems to have no appetite."
It is always levelled as a reproach against cats that they are more fond of their home than of the people in it. Naturally, the cat doesn't like to leave his country, the land where all his friends are, and where he knows every landmark. Exiled in a strange land, he would have to learn a new geography, to exploit another tribe of dogs, to fight and make love to an entirely new nation of cats. Life isn't long enough for that sort of thing. So, when the family moves, the cat, if allowed, will stay at the old house and attach himself to the new tenants. He will give them the privilege of boarding him while he enjoys life in his own way. He is not going to sacrifice his whole career for the doubtful reward which fidelity to his old master or mistress might bring.
SITTING IN JUDGMENT
The show ring was a circular enclosure of about four acres, with a spiked batten fence round it, and a listless crowd of back-country settlers propped along the fence. Behind them were the sheds for produce, and the machinery sections where steam threshers and earth scoops hummed and buzzed and thundered unnoticed. Crowds of sightseers wandered past the cattle stalls to gape at the fat bullocks; side-shows flourished, a blase goose drew marbles out of a tin canister, and a boxing showman displayed his muscles outside his tent, while his partner urged the youth of the district to come in and be thumped for the edification of the spectators.
Suddenly a gate opened at the end of the show ring, and horses, cattle, dogs, vehicles, motor-cars, and bicyclists crowded into the arena. This was the general parade, but it would have been better described as a general chaos. Trotting horses and ponies, in harness, went whirling round the ring, every horse and every driver fully certain that every eye was fixed on them; the horses—the vainest creatures in the world—arching their necks and lifting their feet, whizzed past in bewildering succession, till the onlookers grew giddy. Inside the whirling circle blood stallions stood on their hind legs, screaming defiance to the world at large; great shaggy-fronted bulls, with dull vindictive eyes, paced along, looking as though they were trying to remember who it was that struck them last. A showground bull always seems to be nursing a grievance.
Mixed up with the stallions and bulls were dogs and donkeys. The dogs were led by attendants, apparently selected on the principle of the larger the dog the smaller the custodian; while the donkeys were the only creatures unmoved by their surroundings, for they slept peaceably through the procession, occasionally waking up to bray their sense of boredom.
In the centre of the ring a few lady-riders, stern-featured women for the most part, were being "judged" by a trembling official, who feared to look them in the face, but hurriedly and apologetically examined horses and saddles, whispered his award to the stewards, and fled at top speed to the official stand—his sanctuary from the fury of spurned beauty. The defeated ladies immediately began to "perform"—that is, to ask the universe at large whether anyone ever heard the like of that! But the stewards strategically slipped away, and the injured innocents had no resource left but to ride haughtily round the ring, glaring defiance at the spectators.
All this time stewards and committee-men were wandering among the competitors, trying to find the animals for judgment. The clerk of the ring—a huge man on a small cob—galloped around, roaring like a bull: "This way for the fourteen stone 'acks! Come on, you twelve 'and ponies!" and by degrees various classes got judged, and dispersed grumbling. Then the bulls filed out with their grievances still unsettled, the lady riders were persuaded to withdraw, and the clerk of the ring sent a sonorous bellow across the ground: "Where's the jumpin' judges?"
From the official stand came a brisk, dark-faced, wiry little man. He had been a steeplechase rider and a trainer in his time. Long experience of that tricky animal, the horse, had made him reserved and slow to express an opinion. He mounted the table, and produced a note-book. From the bar of the booth came a large, hairy, red-faced man, whose face showed fatuous self-complacency. He was a noted show-judge because he refused, on principle, to listen to others' opinions; or in those rare cases when he did, only to eject a scornful contradiction. The third judge was a local squatter, who was overwhelmed with a sense of his own importance.
They seated themselves on a raised platform in the centre of the ring, and held consultation. The small dark man produced his note-book.
"I always keep a scale of points," he said. "Give 'em so many points for each fence. Then give 'em so many for make, shape, and quality, and so many for the way they jump."
The fat man looked infinite contempt. "I never want any scale of points," he said. "One look at the 'orses is enough for me. A man that judges by points ain't a judge at all, I reckon. What do you think?" he went on, turning to the squatter. "Do you go by points?"
"Never," said the squatter, firmly; which, as he had never judged before in his life, was strictly true.
"Well, we'll each go our own way," said the little man. "I'll keep points. Send 'em in."
"Number One, Conductor!" roared the ring steward in a voice like thunder, and a long-legged grey horse came trotting into the ring and sidled about uneasily. His rider pointed him for the first jump, and went at it at a terrific pace. Nearing the fence the horse made a wild spring, and cleared it by feet, while the crowd yelled applause. At the second jump he raced right under the obstacle, propped dead, and rose in the air with a leap like a goat, while the crowd yelled their delight again, and said: "My oath! ain't he clever?" As he neared the third fence he shifted about uneasily, and finally took it at an angle, clearing a wholly unnecessary thirty feet. Again the hurricane of cheers broke out. "Don't he fly 'em," said one man, waving his hat. At the last fence he made his spring yards too soon; his forelegs got over all right, but his hind legs dropped on the rail with a sounding rap, and he left a little tuft of hair sticking on it.
"I like to see 'em feel their fences," said the fat man. "I had a bay 'orse once, and he felt every fence he ever jumped; shows their confidence."
"I think he'll feel that last one for a while," said the little dark man. "What's this now?"
"Number Two, Homeward Bound!" An old, solid chestnut horse came out and cantered up to each jump, clearing them coolly and methodically. The crowd was not struck by the performance, and the fat man said: "No pace!" but surreptitiously made two strokes (to indicate Number Two) on the cuff of his shirt.
"Number Eleven, Spite!" This was a leggy, weedy chestnut, half-racehorse, half-nondescript, ridden by a terrified amateur, who went at the fence with a white, set face. The horse raced up to the fence, and stopped dead, amid the jeers of the crowd. The rider let daylight into him with his spurs, and rushed him at it again. This time he got over.
Round he went, clouting some fences with his front legs, others with his hind legs. The crowd jeered, but the fat man, from a sheer spirit of opposition, said: "That would be a good horse if he was rode better." And the squatter remarked: "Yes, he belongs to a young feller just near me. I've seen him jump splendidly out in the bush, over brush fences."
The little dark man said nothing, but made a note in his book.
"Number Twelve, Gaslight!" "Now, you'll see a horse," said the fat man. "I've judged this 'orse in twenty different shows, and gave him first prize every time!"
Gaslight turned out to be a fiddle-headed, heavy-shouldered brute, whose long experience of jumping in shows where they give points for pace—as if the affair was a steeplechase—had taught him to get the business over as quickly as he could. He went thundering round the ring, pulling double, and standing off his fences in a style that would infallibly bring him to grief if following hounds across roads or through broken timber.
"Now," said the fat man, "that's a 'unter, that is. What I say is, when you come to judge at a show, pick out the 'orse you'd soonest be on if Ned Kelly was after you, and there you have the best 'unter."
The little man did not reply, but made the usual scrawl in his book, while the squatter hastened to agree with the fat man. "I like to see a bit of pace myself," he ventured.
The fat man sat on him heavily. "You don't call that pace, do you?" he said. "He was going dead slow."
Various other competitors did their turn round the ring, some propping and bucking over the jumps, others rushing and tearing at their fences; not one jumped as a hunter should. Some got themselves into difficulties by changing feet or misjudging the distance, and were loudly applauded by the crowd for "cleverness" in getting themselves out of the difficulties they had themselves created.
A couple of rounds narrowed the competitors down to a few, and the task of deciding was entered on.
"I have kept a record," said the little man, "of how they jumped each fence, and I give them points for style of jumping, and for their make and shape and hunting qualities. The way I bring it out is that Homeward Bound is the best, with Gaslight second."
"Homeward Bound!" said the fat man. "Why, the pace he went wouldn't head a duck. He didn't go as fast as a Chinaman could trot with two baskets of stones. I want to have three of 'em in to have another look at 'em." Here he looked surreptitiously at his cuff, saw a note "No. II.", mistook it for "Number Eleven", and said: "I want Number Eleven to go another round."
The leggy, weedy chestnut, with the terrified amateur up, came sidling and snorting out into the ring. The fat man looked at him with scorn.
"What is that fiddle-headed brute doing in the ring?" he said.
"Why," said the ring steward, "you said you wanted him."
"Well," said the fat man, "if I said I wanted him I do want him. Let him go the round."
The terrified amateur went at his fences with the rashness of despair, and narrowly escaped being clouted off on two occasions. This put the fat man in a quandary. He had kept no record, and all the horses were jumbled up in his head; but he had one fixed idea, to give the first prize to Gaslight; as to the second he was open to argument. From sheer contrariness he said that Number Eleven would be "all right if he were rode better," and the squatter agreed. The little man was overruled, and the prizes went—Gaslight, first; Spite, second; Homeward Bound, third.
The crowd hooted loudly as Spite's rider came round with the second ribbon, and small boys suggested to the fat judge in shrill tones that he ought to boil his head. The fat man stalked majestically into the stewards' stand, and on being asked how he came to give Spite the second prize, remarked oracularly: "I judge the 'orse, I don't judge the rider." This silenced criticism, and everyone adjourned to have a drink.
Over the flowing bowl the fat man said: "You see, I don't believe in this nonsense about points. I can judge 'em without that."
Twenty dissatisfied competitors vowed they would never bring another horse there in their lives. Gaslight's owner said: "Blimey, I knew it would be all right with old Billy judging. 'E knows this 'orse."
The dog is a member of society who likes to have his day's work, and who does it more conscientiously than most human beings. A dog always looks as if he ought to have a pipe in his mouth and a black bag for his lunch, and then he would go quite happily to office every day.
A dog without work is like a man without work, a nuisance to himself and everybody else. People who live about town, and keep a dog to give the children hydatids and to keep the neighbours awake at night, imagine that the animal is fulfilling his destiny. All town dogs, fancy dogs, show dogs, lap-dogs, and other dogs with no work to do, should be abolished; it is only in the country that a dog has any justification for his existence.
The old theory that animals have only instinct, not reason, to guide them, is knocked endways by the dog. A dog can reason as well as a human being on some subjects, and better on others, and the best reasoning dog of all is the sheep-dog. The sheep-dog is a professional artist with a pride in his business. Watch any drover's dogs bringing sheep into the yards. How thoroughly they feel their responsibility, and how very annoyed they get if a stray dog with no occupation wants them to stop and fool about! They snap at him and hurry off, as much as to say: "You go about your idleness. Don't you see this is my busy day?"
Sheep-dogs are followers of Thomas Carlyle. They hold that the only happiness for a dog in this life is to find his work and to do it. The idle, 'dilettante', non-working, aristocratic dog they have no use for.
The training of a sheep-dog for his profession begins at a very early age. The first thing is to take him out with his mother and let him see her working. He blunders lightheartedly, frisking along in front of the horse, and his owner tries to ride over him, and generally succeeds. It is amusing to see how that knocks all the gas out of a puppy, and with what a humble air he falls to the rear and glues himself to the horse's heels, scarcely daring to look to the right or to the left, for fear of committing some other breach of etiquette.
He has had his first lesson—to keep behind the horse until he is wanted. Then he watches the old slut work, and is allowed to go with her round the sheep; and if he shows any disposition to get out of hand and frolic about, the old lady will bite him sharply to prevent his interfering with her work.
By degrees, slowly, like any other professional, he learns his business. He learns to bring sheep after a horse simply at a wave of the hand; to force the mob up to a gate where they can be counted or drafted; to follow the scent of lost sheep, and to drive sheep through a town without any master, one dog going on ahead to block the sheep from turning off into by-streets while the other drives them on from the rear.
How do they learn all these things? Dogs for show work are taught painstakingly by men who are skilled in handling them; but, after all, they teach themselves more than the men teach them. It looks as if the acquired knowledge of generations were transmitted from dog to dog. The puppy, descended from a race of sheep-dogs, starts with all his faculties directed towards the working of sheep; he is half-educated as soon as he is born. He can no more help working sheep than a born musician can help being musical, or a Hebrew can help gathering in shekels. It is bred in him. If he can't get sheep to work, he will work a fowl; often and often one can see a collie pup painstakingly and carefully driving a bewildered old hen into a stable, or a stock-yard, or any other enclosed space on which he has fixed his mind. How does he learn to do that? He didn't learn it at all. The knowledge was born with him.
When the dog has been educated, or has educated himself, he enjoys his work; but very few dogs like work "in the yards". The sun is hot, the dust rises in clouds, and there is nothing to do but bark, bark, bark—which is all very well for learners and amateurs, but is beneath the dignity of the true professional sheep-dog. When they are hoarse with barking and nearly choked with dust, the men lose their tempers and swear at them, and throw clods of earth at them, and sing out to them "Speak up, blast you!"
Then the dogs suddenly decide that they have done enough for the day. Watching their opportunity, they silently steal over the fence, and hide in any cool place they can find. After a while the men notice that hardly any are left, and operations are suspended while a great hunt is made into outlying pieces of cover, where the dogs are sure to be found lying low and looking as guilty as so many thieves. A clutch at the scruff of the neck, a kick in the ribs, and they are hauled out of hiding-places; and accompany their masters to the yard frolicking about and pretending that they are quite delighted to be going back, and only hid in those bushes out of sheer thoughtlessness. He is a champion hypocrite, is the dog.
Dogs, like horses, have very keen intuition. They know when the men around them are frightened, though they may not know the cause. In a great Queensland strike, when the shearers attacked and burnt Dagworth shed, some rifle-volleys were exchanged. The air was full of human electricity, each man giving out waves of fear and excitement. Mark now the effect it had on the dogs. They were not in the fighting; nobody fired at them, and nobody spoke to them; but every dog left his master, left the sheep, and went away to the homestead, about six miles off. There wasn't a dog about the shed next day after the fight. The noise of the rifles had not frightened them, because they were well-accustomed to that.*
* The same thing happened constantly with horses in the South African War. A loose horse would feed contentedly while our men were firing, but when our troops were being fired at the horses became uneasy, and the loose ones would trot away. The excitement of the men communicated itself to them.
Dogs have an amazing sense of responsibility. Sometimes, when there are sheep to be worked, an old slut who has young puppies may be greatly exercised in her mind whether she should go out or not. On the one hand, she does not care about leaving the puppies, on the other, she feels that she really ought to go rather than allow the sheep to be knocked about by those learners. Hesitatingly, with many a look behind her, she trots out after the horses and the other dogs. An impassioned appeal from the head boundary rider, "Go back home, will yer!" is treated with the contempt it deserves. She goes out to the yards, works, perhaps half the day, and then slips quietly under the fences and trots off home, contented.
THE DOG—AS A SPORTSMAN
The sheep-dog and the cattle-dog are the workmen of the animal kingdom; sporting and fighting dogs are the professionals and artists.
A house-dog or a working-dog will only work for his master; a professional or artistic dog will work for anybody, so long as he is treated like an artist. A man going away for a week's shooting can borrow a dog, and the dog will work for him loyally, just as a good musician will do his best, though the conductor is strange to him, and the other members of the band are not up to the mark. The musician's art is sacred to him, and that is the case with the dog—Art before everything.
It is a grand sight to see a really good setter or pointer working up to a bird, occasionally glancing over his shoulder to see if the man with the gun has not lost himself. He throws his whole soul into his work, questing carefully over the cold scent, feathering eagerly when the bird is close, and at last drawing up like a statue. Not Paganini himself ever lost himself in his art more thoroughly than does humble Spot or Ponto. It is not amusement and not a mere duty to him; it is a sacred gift, which he is bound to exercise.
A pointer in need of amusement will play with another dog—the pair pretending to fight, and so on, but when there is work to be done, the dog is lost in the artist. How crestfallen he looks if by any chance he blunders on to a bird without pointing it! A fiddler who has played a wrong note in a solo is the only creature who can look quite so discomfited. Humanity, instead of going to the ant for wisdom, should certainly go to the dog.
Sporting dogs are like other artists, in that they are apt to get careless of everything except their vocation. They are similarly quite unreliable in their affections. They are not good watch dogs, and take little interest in chasing cats. They look on a little dog that catches rats much as a great musician looks on a cricketer—it's clever, but it isn't Art.
Hunting and fighting dogs are the gladiators of the animal world. A fox-hound or a kangaroo-dog is always of the same opinion as Mr. Jorrocks:—"All time is wasted what isn't spent in 'untin'."
A greyhound will start out in the morning with three lame legs, but as soon as he sees a hare start he must go. He utterly forgets his sorrows in the excitement, just as a rowing-man, all over boils and blisters, will pull a desperate race without feeling any pain. Such dogs are not easily excited by anything but a chase, and a burglar might come and rob the house and murder the inmates without arousing any excitement among them. Guarding a house is "not their pidgin" as the Chinese say. That is one great reason for the success of the dog at whatever branch of his tribe's work he goes in for—he is so thorough. Dogs who are forced to combine half-a-dozen professions never make a success at anything. One dog one billet is their motto.
The most earnest and thorough of all the dog tribe is the fighting dog. His intense self-respect, his horror of brawling, his cool determination, make him a pattern to humanity. The bull-dog or bull-terrier is generally the most friendly and best-tempered dog in the world; but when he is put down in the ring he fights till he drops, in grim silence, though his feet are bitten through and through, his ears are in rags, and his neck a hideous mass of wounds.
In a well-conducted dog-fight each dog in turn has to attack the other dog, and one can see fierce earnestness blazing in the eye of the attacker as he hurls himself on the foe. What makes him fight like that? It is not bloodthirstiness, because they are neither savage nor quarrelsome dogs: a bulldog will go all his life without a fight, unless put into a ring. It is simply their strong self-respect and stubborn pride which will not let them give in. The greyhound snaps at his opponent and then runs for his life, but the fighting dog stands to it till death.
Just occasionally one sees the same type of human being—some quiet-spoken, good-tempered man who has taken up glove-fighting for a living, and who, perhaps, gets pitted against a man a shade better than himself. After a few rounds he knows he is overmatched, but there is something at the back of his brain that will not let him cave in. Round after round he stands punishment, and round after round he grimly comes up, till, possibly, his opponent loses heart, or a fluky hit turns the scale in his favour. These men are to be found in every class of life. Many of the gamest of the game are mere gutter-bred boys who will continue to fight long after they have endured enough punishment to entitle them to quit.
You can see in their eyes the same hard glitter that shows in the bulldog's eyes as he limps across the ring, or in the eye of the racehorse as he lies down to it when his opponent is outpacing him. It is grit, pluck, vim, nerve force; call it what you like, and there is no created thing that has more of it than the dog.
The blood-lust is a dog-phase that has never been quite understood. Every station-owner knows that sometimes the house-dogs are liable to take a sudden fit of sheep-killing. Any kind of dog will do it, from the collie downward. Sometimes dogs from different homesteads meet in the paddocks, having apparently arranged the whole affair beforehand. They are very artful about it, too. They lie round the house till dark, and then slink off and have a wild night's blood-spree, running down the wretched sheep and tearing their throats open; before dawn they slink back again and lie around the house as before. Many and many a sheep-owner has gone out with a gun and shot his neighbour's dogs for killing sheep which his own wicked, innocent-looking dogs had slain.
CONCERNING A STEEPLECHASE RIDER
Of all the ways in which men get a living there is none so hard and so precarious as that of steeplechase-riding in Australia. It is bad enough in England, where steeplechases only take place in winter, when the ground is soft, where the horses are properly schooled before being raced, and where most of the obstacles will yield a little if struck and give the horse a chance to blunder over safely.
In Australia the men have to go at racing-speed, on very hard ground, over the most rigid and uncompromising obstacles—ironbark rails clamped into solid posts with bands of iron. No wonder they are always coming to grief, and are always in and out of hospital in splints and bandages. Sometimes one reads that a horse has fallen and the rider has "escaped with a severe shaking."
That "shaking", gentle reader, would lay you or me up for weeks, with a doctor to look after us and a crowd of sympathetic friends calling to know how our poor back was. But the steeplechase-rider has to be out and about again, "riding exercise" every morning, and "schooling" all sorts of cantankerous brutes over the fences. These men take their lives in their hands and look at grim death between their horses' ears every time they race or "school".
The death-record among Australian cross-country jockeys and horses is very great; it is a curious instance of how custom sanctifies all things that such horse-and-man slaughter is accepted in such a callous way. If any theatre gave a show at which men and horses were habitually crippled or killed in full sight of the audience, the manager would be put on his trial for manslaughter.
Our race-tracks use up their yearly average of horses and men without attracting remark. One would suppose that the risk being so great the profits were enormous; but they are not. In "the game" as played on our racecourses there is just a bare living for a good capable horseman while he lasts, with the certainty of an ugly smash if he keeps at it long enough.
And they don't need to keep at it very long. After a few good "shakings" they begin to take a nip or two to put heart into them before they go out, and after a while they have to increase the dose. At last they cannot ride at all without a regular cargo of alcohol on board, and are either "half-muzzy" or shaky according as they have taken too much or too little.
Then the game becomes suicidal; it is an axiom that as soon as a man begins to funk he begins to fall. The reason is that a rider who has lost his nerve is afraid of his horse making a mistake, and takes a pull, or urges him onward, just at the crucial moment when the horse is rattling up to his fence and judging his distance. That little, nervous pull at his head or that little touch of the spur, takes his attention from the fence, with the result that he makes his spring a foot too far off or a foot too close in, and—smash!
The loafers who hang about the big fences rush up to see if the jockey is killed or stunned; if he is, they dispose of any jewellery he may have about him; they have been known almost to tear a finger off in their endeavours to secure a ring. The ambulance clatters up at a canter, the poor rider is pushed in out of sight, and the ladies in the stand say how unlucky they are—that brute of a horse falling after they backed him. A wolfish-eyed man in the Leger-stand shouts to a wolfish-eyed pal, "Bill, I believe that jock was killed when the chestnut fell," and Bill replies, "Yes, damn him, I had five bob on him." And the rider, gasping like a crushed chicken, is carried into the casualty-room and laid on a little stretcher, while outside the window the bookmakers are roaring "Four to one bar one," and the racing is going on merrily as ever.
These remarks serve to introduce one of the fraternity who may be considered as typical of all. He was a small, wiry, hard-featured fellow, the son of a stockman on a big cattle-station, and began life as a horse-breaker; he was naturally a horseman, able and willing to ride anything that could carry him. He left the station to go with cattle on the road, and having picked up a horse that showed pace, amused himself by jumping over fences. Then he went to Wagga, entered the horse in a steeplechase, rode him himself, won handsomely, sold the horse at a good price to a Sydney buyer, and went down to ride it in his Sydney races.
In Sydney he did very well; he got a name as a fearless and clever rider, and was offered several mounts on fine animals. So he pitched his camp in Sydney, and became a fully-enrolled member of the worst profession in the world. I had known him in the old days on the road, and when I met him on the course one day I enquired how he liked the new life.
"Well, it's a livin'," he said, "but it's no great shakes. They don't give steeplechase-riders a chance in Sydney. There's very few races, and the big sweepstakes keep horses out of the game."
"Do you get a fair share of the riding?" I asked.
"Oh, yes; I get as much as anybody. But there's a lot of 'em got a notion I won't take hold of a horse when I'm told (i.e., pull him to prevent him winning). Some of these days I'll take hold of a horse when they don't expect it."
I smiled as I thought there was probably a sorry day in store for some backer when the jockey "took hold" unexpectedly.
"Do you have to pull horses, then, to get employment?"
"Oh, well, it's this way," he said, rather apologetically, "if an owner is badly treated by the handicapper, and is just giving his horse a run to get weight off, then it's right enough to catch hold a bit. But when a horse is favourite and the public are backing him it isn't right to take hold of him then. I would not do it." This was his whole code of morals—not to pull a favourite; and he felt himself very superior to the scoundrel who would pull favourites or outsiders indiscriminately.
"What do you get for riding?" I asked him.
"Well," he said, looking about uneasily, "we're supposed to get a fiver for a losing mount and ten pounds if we win, but a lot of the steeplechase-owners are what I call 'battlers'—men who have no money and get along by owing everybody. They promise us all sorts of money if we win, but they don't pay if we lose. I only got two pounds for that last steeplechase."
"Two pounds!" I made a rapid calculation. He had ridden over eighteen fences for two pounds—had chanced his life eighteen times at less than half-a-crown a time.
"Good Heavens!" I said, "that's a poor game. Wouldn't you be better back on the station?"
"Oh, I don't know—sometimes we get laid a bit to nothing, and do well out of a race. And then, you know, a steeplechase rider is somebody—not like an ordinary fellow that is just working."
I realised that I was an "ordinary fellow who was just working", and felt small accordingly.
"I'm just off to weigh now," he said—"I'm riding Contractor, and he'll run well, but he always seems to fall at those logs. Still, I ought to have luck to-day. I met a hearse as I was coming out. I'll get him over the fences, somehow."
"Do you think it lucky, then, to meet a hearse?"
"Oh, yes," he said, "if you meet it. You mustn't overtake it—that's unlucky. So is a cross-eyed man unlucky. Cross-eyed men ought to be kept off racecourses."
He reappeared clad in his racing rig, and we set off to see the horse saddled. We found the owner in a great state of excitement. It seemed he had no money—absolutely none whatever—but had borrowed enough to pay the sweepstakes, and stood to make something if the horse won and lose nothing if he lost, as he had nothing to lose. My friend insisted on being paid two pounds before he would mount, and the owner nearly had a fit in his efforts to persuade him to ride on credit. At last a backer of the horse agreed to pay 2 pounds 10s., win or lose, and the rider was to get 25 pounds out of the prize if he won. So up he got; and as he and the others walked the big muscular horses round the ring, nodding gaily to friends in the crowd, I thought of the gladiators going out to fight in the arena with the cry of "Hail, Caesar, those about to die salute thee!"
The story of the race is soon told. My friend went to the front at the start and led nearly all the way, and "Contractor!" was on every one's lips as the big horse sailed along in front of his field. He came at the log-fence full of running, and it looked certain that he would get over. But at the last stride he seemed to falter, then plunged right into the fence, striking it with his chest, and, turning right over, landed on his unfortunate rider.
A crowd clustered round and hid horse and rider from view, and I ran down to the casualty-room to meet him when the ambulance came in. The limp form was carefully taken out and laid on a stretcher while a doctor examined the crushed ribs, the broken arm, and all the havoc that the horse's huge weight had wrought.
There was no hope from the first. My poor friend, who had so often faced Death for two pounds, lay very still awhile. Then he began to talk, wandering in his mind, "Where are the cattle?"—his mind evidently going back to the old days on the road. Then, quickly, "Look out there—give me room!" and again "Five-and-twenty pounds, Mary, and a sure thing if he don't fall at the logs."
Mary was sobbing beside the bed, cursing the fence and the money that had brought him to grief. At last, in a tone of satisfaction, he said, quite clear and loud: "I know how it was—There couldn't have been any dead man in that hearse!"
And so, having solved the mystery to his own satisfaction, he drifted away into unconsciousness—and woke somewhere on the other side of the big fence that we can neither see through nor over, but all have to face sooner or later.
We were training two horses for the Buckatowndown races—an old grey warrior called Tricolor—better known to the station boys as The Trickler—and a mare for the hack race. Station horses don't get trained quite like Carbine; some days we had no time to give them gallops at all, so they had to gallop twice as far the next day to make up.
One day the boy we had looking after The Trickler fell in with a mob of sharps who told him we didn't know anything about training horses, and that what the horse really wanted was "a twicer"—that is to say, a gallop twice round the course. So the boy gave him "a twicer" on his own responsibility. When we found out about it we gave the boy a twicer with the strap, and he left and took out a summons against us. But somehow or other we managed to get the old horse pretty fit, tried him against hacks of different descriptions, and persuaded ourselves that we had the biggest certainty ever known on a racecourse.
When the horses were galloping in the morning the kangaroo-dog, Victor, nearly always went down to the course to run round with them. It amused him, apparently, and didn't hurt anyone, so we used to let him race; in fact, we rather encouraged him, because it kept him in good trim to hunt kangaroo. When we were starting for the meeting, someone said we had better tie up Victor or he would be getting stolen at the races. We called and whistled, but he had made himself scarce, so we started and forgot all about him.
Buckatowndown Races. Red-hot day, everything dusty, everybody drunk and blasphemous. All the betting at Buckatowndown was double-event—you had to win the money first, and fight the man for it afterwards.
The start for our race, the Town Plate, was delayed for a quarter of an hour because the starter flatly refused to leave a fight of which he was an interested spectator. Every horse, as he did his preliminary gallop, had a string of dogs after him, and the clerk of the course came full cry after the dogs with a whip.
By and by the horses strung across to the start at the far side of the course. They fiddled about for a bit; then down went the flag and they came sweeping along all bunched up together, one holding a nice position on the inside. All of a sudden we heard a wild chorus of imprecations—"Look at that dog!" Victor had chipped in with the racehorses, and was running right in front of the field. It looked a guinea to a gooseberry that some of them would fall on him.
The owners danced and swore. What did we mean by bringing a something mongrel there to trip up and kill horses that were worth a paddockful of all the horses we had ever owned, or would ever breed or own, even if we lived to be a thousand. We were fairly in it and no mistake.
As the field came past the stand the first time we could hear the riders swearing at our dog, and a wild yell of execration arose from the public. He had got right among the ruck by this time, and was racing alongside his friend The Trickler, thoroughly enjoying himself. After passing the stand the pace became very merry; the dog stretched out all he knew; when they began to make it too hot for him, he cut off corners, and joined at odd intervals, and every time he made a fresh appearance the people in the stand lifted up their voices and "swore cruel".
The horses were all at the whip as they turned into the straight, and then The Trickler and the publican's mare singled out. We could hear the "chop, chop!" of the whips as they came along together, but the mare could not suffer it as long as the old fellow, and she swerved off while he struggled home a winner by a length or so. Just as they settled down to finish Victor dashed up on the inside, and passed the post at old Trickler's girths. The populace immediately went for him with stones, bottles, and other missiles, and he had to scratch gravel to save his life. But imagine the amazement of the other owners when the judge placed Trickler first, Victor second, and the publican's mare third!
The publican tried to argue it out with him. He said you couldn't place a kangaroo-dog second in a horse-race.
The judge said it was his (hiccough) business what he placed, and that those who (hiccough) interfered with him would be sorry for it. Also he expressed a (garnished) opinion that the publican's mare was no rotten good, and that she was the right sort of mare for a poor man to own, because she would keep him poor.
Then the publican called the judge a cow. The judge was willing; a rip, tear, and chew fight ensued, which lasted some time. The judge won.
Fifteen protests were lodged against our win, but we didn't worry about that—we had laid the stewards a bit to nothing. Every second man we met wanted to run us a mile for 100 pounds a side; and a drunken shearer, spoiling for a fight, said he had heard we were "brimming over with bally science", and had ridden forty miles to find out.
We didn't wait for the hack race. We folded our tents like the Arab and stole away. But it remains on the annals of Buckatowndown how a kangaroo-dog ran second for the Town Plate.
CONCERNING A DOG-FIGHT
Dog-fighting as a sport is not much in vogue now-a-days. To begin with it is illegal. Not that that matters much, for Sunday drinking is also illegal. But dog-fighting is one of the cruel sports which the community has decided to put down with all the force of public opinion. Nevertheless, a certain amount of it is still carried on near Sydney, and very neatly and scientifically carried on, too—principally by gentlemen who live out Botany way and do not care for public opinion.
The grey dawn was just breaking over Botany when we got to the meeting-place. Away to the East the stars were paling in the faint flush of coming dawn, and over the sandhills came the boom of breakers. It was Sunday morning, and all the respectable, non-dog-fighting population of that odoriferous suburb were sleeping their heavy, Sunday-morning sleep. Some few people, however, were astir. In the dim light hurried pedestrians plodded along the heavy road towards the sandhills. Now and then a van, laden with ten or eleven of "the talent", and drawn by a horse that cost fifteen shillings at auction, rolled softly along in the same direction. These were dog-fighters who had got "the office", and knew exactly where the match was to take place.
The "meet" was on a main road, about half-a-mile from town; here some two hundred people had assembled, and hung up their horses and vehicles to the fence without the slightest concealment. They said the police would not interfere with them—and they did not seem a nice crowd to interfere with.
One dog was on the ground when we arrived, having come out in a hansom cab with his trainer. He was a white bull-terrier, weighing about forty pounds, "trained to the hour", with the muscles standing out all over him. He waited in the cab, licking his trainer's face at intervals to reassure that individual of his protection and support; the rest of the time he glowered out of the cab and eyed the public scornfully. He knew as well as any human being that there was sport afoot, and looked about eagerly and wickedly to see what he could get his teeth into.
Soon a messenger came running up to know whether they meant to sit in the cab till the police came; the other dog, he said, had arrived and all was ready. The trainer and dog got out of the cab; we followed them through a fence and over a rise—and there, about twenty yards from the main road, was a neatly-pitched enclosure like a prize-ring, a thirty-foot-square enclosure formed with stakes and ropes. About a hundred people were at the ringside, and in the far corner, in the arms of his trainer, was the other dog—a brindle.
It was wonderful to see the two dogs when they caught sight of each other. The white dog came up to the ring straining at his leash, nearly dragging his trainer off his feet in his efforts to get at the enemy. At intervals he emitted a hoarse roar of challenge and defiance.
The brindled dog never uttered a sound. He fixed his eyes on his adversary with a look of intense hunger, of absolute yearning for combat. He never for an instant shifted his unwinking gaze. He seemed like an animal who saw the hopes of years about to be realised. With painful earnestness he watched every detail of the other dog's toilet; and while the white dog was making fierce efforts to get at him, he stood Napoleonic, grand in his courage, waiting for the fray.
All details were carefully attended to, and all rules strictly observed. People may think a dog-fight is a go-as-you-please outbreak of lawlessness, but there are rules and regulations—simple, but effective. There were two umpires, a referee, a timekeeper, and two seconds for each dog. The stakes were said to be ten pounds a-side. After some talk, the dogs were carried to the centre of the ring by their seconds and put on the ground. Like a flash of lightning they dashed at each other, and the fight began.
Nearly everyone has seen dogs fight—"it is their nature to", as Dr. Watts put it. But an ordinary worry between (say) a retriever and a collie, terminating as soon as one or other gets his ear bitten, gives a very faint idea of a real dog-fight. But bull-terriers are the gladiators of the canine race. Bred and trained to fight, carefully exercised and dieted for weeks beforehand, they come to the fray exulting in their strength and determined to win. Each is trained to fight for certain holds, a grip of the ear or the back of the neck being of very slight importance. The foot is a favourite hold, the throat is, of course, fashionable—if they can get it.
The white and the brindle sparred and wrestled and gripped and threw each other, fighting grimly, and disdaining to utter a sound. Their seconds dodged round them unceasingly, giving them encouragement and advice—"That's the style, Boxer—fight for his foot"—"Draw your foot back, old man," and so on. Now and again one dog got a grip of the other's foot and chewed savagely, and the spectators danced with excitement. The moment the dogs let each other go they were snatched up by their seconds and carried to their corners, and a minute's time was allowed, in which their mouths were washed out and a cloth rubbed over their bodies.
Then came the ceremony of "coming to scratch". When time was called for the second round the brindled dog was let loose in his own corner, and was required by the rules to go across the ring of his own free will and attack the other dog. If he failed to do this he would lose the fight. The white dog, meanwhile, was held in his corner waiting the attack. After the next round it was the white dog's turn to make the attack, and so on alternately. The animals need not fight a moment longer than they chose, as either dog could abandon the fight by failing to attack his enemy.
While their condition lasted they used to dash across the ring at full run; but, after a while, when the punishment got severe and their "fitness" began to fail, it became a very exciting question whether or not a dog would "come to scratch". The brindled dog's condition was not so good as the other's. He used to lie on his stomach between the rounds to rest himself, and several times it looked as if he would not cross the ring when his turn came. But as soon as time was called he would start to his feet and limp slowly across glaring steadily at his adversary; then, as he got nearer, he would quicken his pace, make a savage rush, and in a moment they would be locked in combat. So they battled on for fifty-six minutes, till the white dog (who was apparently having all the best of it), on being called to cross the ring, only went half-way across and stood there for a minute growling savagely. So he lost the fight.
No doubt it was a brutal exhibition. But it was not cruel to the animals in the same sense that pigeon-shooting or hare-hunting is cruel. The dogs are born fighters, anxious and eager to fight, desiring nothing better. Whatever limited intelligence they have is all directed to this one consuming passion. They could stop when they liked, but anyone looking on could see that they gloried in the combat. Fighting is like breath to them—they must have it. Nature has implanted in all animals a fighting instinct for the weeding out of the physically unfit, and these dogs have an extra share of that fighting instinct.
Of course, now that militarism is going to be abolished, and the world is going to be so good and teetotal, and only fight in debating societies, these nasty savage animals will be out of date. We will not be allowed to keep anything more quarrelsome than a poodle—and a man of the future, the New Man, whose fighting instincts have not been quite bred out of him, will, perhaps, be found at grey dawn of a Sunday morning with a crowd of other unregenerates in some backyard frantically cheering two of them to mortal combat.
Greenhide Billy was a stockman on a Clarence River cattle-station, and admittedly the biggest liar in the district. He had been for many years pioneering in the Northern Territory, the other side of the sun-down—a regular "furthest-out man"—and this assured his reputation among station-hands who award rank according to amount of experience.
Young men who have always hung around the home districts, doing a job of shearing here or a turn at horse-breaking there, look with reverence on Riverine or Macquarie-River shearers who come in with tales of runs where they have 300,000 acres of freehold land and shear 250,000 sheep; these again pale their ineffectual fires before the glory of the Northern Territory man who has all-comers on toast, because no one can contradict him or check his figures. When two of them meet, however, they are not fools enough to cut down quotations and spoil the market; they lie in support of each other, and make all other bushmen feel mean and pitiful and inexperienced.
Sometimes a youngster would timidly ask Greenhide Billy about the 'terra incognita': "What sort of a place is it, Billy—how big are the properties? How many acres had you in the place you were on?"
"Acres be d——d!" Billy would scornfully reply; "hear him talking about acres! D'ye think we were blanked cockatoo selectors! Out there we reckon country by the hundred miles. You orter say, 'How many thousand miles of country?' and then I'd understand you."
Furthermore, according to Billy, they reckoned the rainfall in the Territory by yards, not inches. He had seen blackfellows who could jump at least three inches higher than anyone else had ever seen a blackfellow jump, and every bushman has seen or personally known a blackfellow who could jump over six feet. Billy had seen bigger droughts, better country, fatter cattle, faster horses, and cleverer dogs, than any other man on the Clarence River. But one night when the rain was on the roof, and the river was rising with a moaning sound, and the men were gathered round the fire in the hut smoking and staring at the coals, Billy turned himself loose and gave us his masterpiece.
"I was drovin' with cattle from Mungrybanbone to old Corlett's station on the Buckadowntown River" (Billy always started his stories with some paralysing bush names). "We had a thousand head of store-cattle, wild, mountain-bred wretches that'd charge you on sight; they were that handy with their horns they could skewer a mosquito. There was one or two one-eyed cattle among 'em—and you know how a one-eyed beast always keeps movin' away from the mob, pokin' away out to the edge of them so as they won't git on his blind side, so that by stirrin' about he keeps the others restless.
"They had been scared once or twice, and stampeded and gave us all we could do to keep them together; and it was wet and dark and thundering, and it looked like a real bad night for us. It was my watch. I was on one side of the cattle, like it might be here, with a small bit of a fire; and my mate, Barcoo Jim, he was right opposite on the other side of the cattle, and had gone to sleep under a log. The rest of the men were in the camp fast asleep. Every now and again I'd get on my horse and prowl round the cattle quiet like, and they seemed to be settled down all right, and I was sitting by my fire holding my horse and drowsing, when all of a sudden a blessed 'possum ran out from some saplings and scratched up a tree right alongside me. I was half-asleep, I suppose, and was startled; anyhow, never thinking what I was doing, I picked up a firestick out of the fire and flung it at the 'possum.
"Whoop! Before you could say Jack Robertson, that thousand head of cattle were on their feet, and made one wild, headlong, mad rush right over the place where poor old Barcoo Jim was sleeping. There was no time to hunt up materials for the inquest; I had to keep those cattle together, so I sprang into the saddle, dashed the spurs into the old horse, dropped my head on his mane, and sent him as hard as he could leg it through the scrub to get to the lead of the cattle and steady them. It was brigalow, and you know what that is.
"You know how the brigalow grows," continued Bill; "saplings about as thick as a man's arm, and that close together a dog can't open his mouth to bark in 'em. Well, those cattle swept through that scrub, levelling it like as if it had been cleared for a railway line. They cleared a track a quarter of a mile wide, and smashed every stick, stump and sapling on it. You could hear them roaring and their hoofs thundering and the scrub smashing three or four miles off.
"And where was I? I was racing parallel with the cattle, with my head down on the horse's neck, letting him pick his way through the scrub in the pitchy darkness. This went on for about four miles. Then the cattle began to get winded, and I dug into the old stock-horse with the spurs, and got in front, and began to crack the whip and sing out, so as to steady them a little; after awhile they dropped slower and slower, and I kept the whip going. I got them all together in a patch of open country, and there I rode round and round 'em all night till daylight.
"And how I wasn't killed in the scrub, goodness only knows; for a man couldn't ride in the daylight where I did in the dark. The cattle were all knocked about—horns smashed, legs broken, ribs torn; but they were all there, every solitary head of 'em; and as soon as the daylight broke I took 'em back to the camp—that is, all that could travel, because I had to leave a few broken-legged ones."
Billy paused in his narrative. He knew that some suggestions would be made, by way of compromise, to tone down the awful strength of the yarn, and he prepared himself accordingly. His motto was "No surrender"; he never abated one jot of his statements; if anyone chose to remark on them, he made them warmer and stronger, and absolutely flattened out the intruder.
"That was a wonderful bit of ridin' you done, Billy," said one of the men at last, admiringly. "It's a wonder you wasn't killed. I suppose your clothes was pretty well tore off your back with the scrub?"
"Never touched a twig," said Billy.
"Ah!" faltered the inquirer, "then no doubt you had a real ringin' good stock-horse that could take you through a scrub like that full-split in the dark, and not hit you against anything."
"No, he wasn't a good un," said Billy decisively, "he was the worst horse in the camp. Terrible awkward in the scrub he was, always fallin' down on his knees; and his neck was so short you could sit far back on him and pull his ears."
Here that interrogator retired hurt; he gave Billy best. After a pause another took up the running.
"How did your mate get on, Billy? I s'pose he was trampled to a mummy!"
"No," said Billy, "he wasn't hurt a bit. I told you he was sleeping under the shelter of a log. Well, when those cattle rushed they swept over that log a thousand strong; and every beast of that herd took the log in his stride and just missed landing on Barcoo Jimmy by about four inches."
The men waited a while and smoked, to let this statement soak well into their systems; at last one rallied and had a final try.
"It's a wonder then, Billy," he said, "that your mate didn't come after you and give you a hand to steady the cattle."
"Well, perhaps it was," said Billy, "only that there was a bigger wonder than that at the back of it."
"What was that?"
"My mate never woke up all through it."
Then the men knocked the ashes out of their pipes and went to bed.
DONE FOR THE DOUBLE
by Knott Gold
Author of "Flogged for a Furlong", "Won by a Winker", etc., etc.
Chapter I.—WANTED, A PONY
Algernon de Montgomery Smythers was a merchant, wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. Other merchants might dress more lavishly, and wear larger watch chains; but the bank balance is the true test of mercantile superiority, and in a trial of bank balances Algernon de Montgomery Smythers represented Tyson at seven stone. He was unbeatable.
He lived in comfort, not to say luxury. He had champagne for breakfast every morning, and his wife always slept with a pair of diamond earrings worth a small fortune in her ears. It is things like these that show true gentility.
Though they had been married many years, the A. de M. Smythers had but one child—a son and heir. No Christmas Day was allowed to pass by his doting parents without a gift to young Algy of some trifle worth about 150 pounds, less the discount for cash. He had six play-rooms, all filled with the most expensive toys and ingenious mechanical devices. He had a phonograph that could hail a ship out at the South Head, and a mechanical parrot that sang "The Wearing of the Green". And still he was not happy.
Sometimes, in spite of the vigilance of his four nurses and six under-nurses, he would escape into the street, and run about with the little boys he met there. One day he gave one of them a sovereign for a locust. Certainly the locust was a "double-drummer", and could deafen the German Band when shaken up judiciously; still, it was dear at a sovereign.
It is ever thus.
What we have we do not value, and what other people have we are not strong enough to take from them.
Such is life.
Christmas was approaching, and the question of Algy's Christmas present agitated the bosom of his parents. He already had nearly everything a child could want; but one morning a bright inspiration struck Algy's father. Algy should have a pony.
With Mr. Smythers to think was to act. He was not a man who believed in allowing grass to grow under his feet. His motto was, "Up and be doing—somebody." So he put an advertisement in the paper that same day.
"Wanted, a boy's pony. Must be guaranteed sound, strong, handsome, intelligent. Used to trains, trams, motors, fire engines, and motor 'buses. Any failure in above respects will disqualify. Certificate of birth required as well as references from last place. Price no object."
Chapter II.—BLINKY BILL'S SACRIFICE
Down in a poverty-stricken part of the city lived Blinky Bill, the horse-dealer.
His yard was surrounded by loose-boxes made of any old timber, galvanized iron, sheets of roofing-felt, and bark he could gather together.
He kept all sorts of horses, except good sorts. There were harness horses, that wouldn't pull, and saddle horses that wouldn't go—or, if they went, used to fall down. Nearly every animal about the place had something the matter with it.
When the bailiff dropped in, as he did every two or three weeks, Bill and he would go out together, and "have a punt" on some of Bill's ponies, or on somebody else's ponies—the latter for choice. But periodical punts and occasional sales of horses would not keep the wolf from the door. Ponies keep on eating whether they are winning or not and Blinky Bill had got down to the very last pitch of desperation when he saw the advertisement mentioned at the end of last chapter.
It was like a ray of hope to him. At once there flashed upon him what he must do.
He must make a great sacrifice; he must sell Sausage II.
Sausage II. was the greatest thirteen-two pony of the day. Time and again he had gone out to race when, to use William's own words, it was a blue duck for Bill's chance of keeping afloat; and every time did the gallant race pony pull his owner through.
Bill owed more to Sausage II. than he owed to his creditors.
Brought up as a pet, the little animal was absolutely trustworthy. He would carry a lady or a child, or pull a sulky; in fact, it was quite a common thing for Blinky Bill to drive him in a sulky to a country meeting and look about him for a likely "mark". If he could find a fleet youth with a reputedly fast pony, Bill would offer to "pull the little cuddy out of the sulky and run yer for a fiver." Sometimes he got beaten; but as he never paid, that didn't matter. He did not believe in fighting; but he would always sooner fight than pay.
But all these devices had left him on his uppers in the end. He had no feed for his ponies, and no money to buy it; the corn merchant had written his account off as bad, and had no desire to make it worse. Under the circumstances, what was he to do? Sausage II. must be sold.
With heavy heart Bill led the pony down to be inspected. He saw Mr. Algernon de Montgomery Smythers, and measured him with his eye. He saw it would be no use to talk about racing to him, so he went on the other track.
He told him that the pony belonged to a Methodist clergyman, who used to drive him in a "shay". There are no shays in this country; but Bill had read the word somewhere, and thought it sounded respectable. "Yus, sir," he said, "'e goes lovely in a shay," and he was just starting off at twenty words a second, when he was stopped.
Mr. A. de M. Smythers was brusque with his inferiors, and in this he made a mistake. Instead of listening to all that Blinky Bill said, and disbelieving it at his leisure, he stopped his talk.
"If you want to sell this pony, dry up," he said. "I don't believe a word you say, and it only worries me to hear you lying."
Fatal mistake! You should never stop a horse-dealer's talk. And call him anything you like, but never say you doubt his word.
Both these things Mr. Smythers did; and, though he bought the pony at a high price, yet the insult sank deep into the heart of Blinky Bill.
As the capitalist departed leading the pony, Blinky Bill muttered to himself, "Ha! ha! Little does he know that he is leading Sausage II., the greatest 13.2 pony of the century. Let him beware how he gets alongside anything. That's all! Blinky Bill may yet be revenged!"
Chapter III.—EXIT ALGY
Christmas Day came. Algy's father gave orders to have the pony saddled, and led round to the front door. Algy's mother, a lady of forty summers, spent the morning superintending the dinner. Dinner was the principal event in the day with her. Alas, poor lady! Everything she ate agreed with her, and she got fatter and fatter and fatter.
The cold world never fully appreciates the struggles of those who are fat—the efforts at starvation, the detested exercise, the long, miserable walks. Well has one of our greatest poets written, "Take up the fat man's burden." But we digress.
When Algy saw the pony he shouted with delight, and in half a minute was riding him up and down the front drive. Then he asked for leave to go out in the street—and that was where the trouble began.
Up and down the street the pony cantered, as quietly as possible, till suddenly round a corner came two butcher boys racing their horses. With a clatter of clumsy hoofs they thundered past. In half a second there was a rattle, and a sort of comet-like rush through the air. Sausage II. was off after them with his precious burden.
The family dog tried to keep up with him, and succeeded in keeping ahead for about three strides. Then, like the wolves that pursued Mazeppa, he was left yelping far behind. Through Surry Hills and Redfern swept the flying pony, his rider lying out on his neck in Tod Sloan fashion, while the ground seemed to race beneath him. The events of the way were just one hopeless blur till the pony ran straight as an arrow into the yard of Blinky Bill.
Chapter IV.—RUNNING THE RULE
As soon as Blinky Bill recognised his visitor, he was delighted.
"You here," he said, "Ha, ha, revenge is mine! I'll get a tidy reward for taking you back, my young shaver."
Then from the unresisting child he took a gold watch and three sovereigns. These he said he would put in a safe place for him, till he was going home again. He expected to get at least a tenner ready money for bringing Algy back, and hoped that he might be allowed to keep the watch into the bargain.
With a light heart he went down town with Algy's watch and sovereigns in his pocket. He did not return till daylight, when he awoke his wife with bad news.
"Can't give the boy up," he said. "I moskenoed his block and tackle, and blued it in the school." In other words, he had pawned the boy's watch and chain, and had lost the proceeds at pitch and toss.
"Nothing for it but to move," he said, "and take the kid with us."
So move they did.
The reader can imagine with what frantic anxiety the father and mother of little Algy sought for their lost one. They put the matter into the hands of the detective police, and waited for the Sherlock Holmeses of the force to get in their fine work. There was nothing doing.
Years rolled on, and the mysterious disappearance of little Algy was yet unsolved. The horse-dealer's revenge was complete.
The boy's mother consulted a clairvoyant, who murmured mystically "What went by the ponies, will come by the ponies;" and with that they had to remain satisfied.
Chapter V.—THE TRICKS OF THE TURF
It was race day at Pulling'em Park, and the ponies were doing their usual performances.
Among the throng the heaviest punter is a fat lady with diamond earrings. Does the reader recognize her? It is little Algy's mother. Her husband is dead, leaving her the whole of his colossal fortune, and, having developed a taste for gambling, she is now engaged in "doing it in on the ponies". She is one of the biggest bettors in the game.
When women take to betting they are worse than men.
But it is not for betting alone that she attends the meetings. She remembers the clairvoyant's "What went by the ponies will come by the ponies." And always she searches in the ranks of the talent for her lost Algy.
Here enters another of our dramatis personae—Blinky Bill, prosperous once more. He has got a string of ponies and punters together. The first are not much use to a man without the second; but, in spite of all temptations, Bill has always declined to number among his punters the mother of the child he stole. But the poor lady regularly punts on his ponies, and just as regularly is "sent up"—in other words, loses her money.
To-day she has backed Blinky's pair, Nostrils and Tin Can, for the double. Nostrils has won his race, and Tin Can, if on the job, can win the second half of the double. Is he on the job? The prices are lengthening against him, and the poor lady recognises that once more she is "in the cart".
Just then she meets Tin Can's jockey, Dodger Smith, face to face. A piercing scream rends the atmosphere, as if a thousand school children drew a thousand slate pencils down a thousand slates simultaneously. "Me cheild! Me cheild! Me long-lost Algy!"
It did not take long to convince Algy that he would be better off as a son to a wealthy lady than as a jockey, subject to the fiendish caprices of Blinky Bill.
"All right, mother," he said. "Put all you can raise on Tin Can. I'm going to send Blinky up. It's time I had a cut on me own, anyway."
The horses went to the post. Tons of money were at the last moment hurled on to Tin Can. The books, knowing he was "dead", responded gamely, and wrote his name till their wrists gave out. Blinky Bill had a half-share in all the bookies' winnings, so he chuckled grimly as he went to the rails to watch the race.
They're off. And what is this that flashes to the front, while the howls of the bookies rise like the yelping of fiends in torment? It is Dodger Smith on Tin Can, and from the grandstand there is a shrill feminine yell of triumph as the gallant pony sails past the post.
The bookies thought that Blinky Bill had sold them, and they discarded him for ever.
Algy and his mother were united, and backed horses together happily ever after, and sometimes out in the back yard of their palatial mansion they hand the empty bottles, free of charge, to a poor old broken-down bottle-O, called Blinky Bill.